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Sam Trippe's Short, Tragic Career

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Sam Trippe
Painfully little is known about trumpeter Sam Trippe's career. Based on my research last night, Trippe was born in 1923 and grew up near Rochester, N.Y. He married in 1945 and lived with his wife, Dorothy, in the village of Endicott, N.Y. According to a 1946 ad in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Trippe played jam sessions with drummer Jimmy Antonelli at the Casablanca on Endicott's Main Street.

According to the Binghamton Press in Binghamton, N.Y., Trippe's family name was Trippicchio. Later in '46, Trippe and his wife along with Trippe's parents moved to Los Angeles. It's unclear why they relocated or what Trippe did while out there. My guess is he eventually took a well-paying job in the late 1940s or early '50s playing for live television shows in L.A. In 1958, Trippe formed a big band, which appeared on L.A.'s channel 2 during a U.S. Marine Corps musicians variety show. Called Dress Blues, it was hosted by Lt. Bob Osterberg, who introduced singer Pam Garner backed by Trippe's orchestra.

In May 1959, Trippe appeared on TV's channel 5 fronting a 17-piece band on a show called Larry Finley's Strictly Informal. On June 3, 1959, Trippe recorded his first album with the band for the Sheen label based in Monrovia, Ca. It was called Explosion! Sadly, he would never hear the album when it was released late that year.

On Monday evening, November 2, 1959, Trippe, 36, and his wife, Dorothy, 33, were killed in a freak auto accident. According to The Los Angeles Times of Nov. 3, the driver of a sedan operated by Vincent Eria, 35, jumped the divide on the San Bernardino Freeway near Eastern Ave. and smashed head-on into Trippe's convertible, crushing the front-end nearly to the windshield.

The Trippes were heading home to the La Puente section of the city when their car was struck by Eria heading toward downtown L.A. A second car driven by Richard Conger, 38, smashed into the rear of Trippe's car after it was stopped cold by Eria's vehicle.

On November 6, the Binghamton Press in New York picked up an Associated Press article reporting that four children were in the car. Three were the Trippes' children and the fourth was a friend of theirs. At the time, the AP reported that Rosalia, 12, suffered light injuries, Frank, 14, was in fair condition with cuts, bruise and shock, while Angele 10, was in fair condition with a fractured right leg and internal injuries.

Frank Trippe's friend, Donald, 14, of La Puente, was listed in critical condition with a depressed skull fracture. Upon release from the hospital, Rosalia went to the home of her paternal grandfather in L.A. One can assume the other Trippe children did the same when they were released. It's unclear whether Donald survived. 

The Los Angeles Times reported that Eria was booked on suspicion of manslaughter. Clearly, he likely was speeding and under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It's impossible to imagine how horrible that accident must have been at a time when cars didn't have seat belts or air bags, much of the interior dashboard was made of chrome and built-in radios had notoriously sharp metal edges. In addition, it's hard to understand how four children could fit in a convertible safely. Unclear is whether the convertible's top was town or up. 

On February 28, 1960, a two-show benefit was held in L.A. to raise money for the care of the Trippe's three children. An ad in The Los Angeles Times read as follows:

Have Fun Today! At the Biggest Dance in Los Angeles History: Stan Kenton, headlining the teenage afternoon dance; Lawrence Welk, headlining the evening dance... and all of these additional great bands: Gus Bivona, Rene Bloch, Claude Gordon, Baldwin's 7-Teens, Buddy Collette, Jerry Gray, Bobbie Hammack, Jack Millman, Johnny Otis, Jessie Price, Rene Touzet, the Phantoms, 6-Teens, Bo Wagner, Mort weiss, Dave Wells and Si Zentner. Plus members of the Sam Trippe Orchestra and many more. All in person today and tonight only at the Hollywood Palladium.

According to the ad, in small type, “All proceeds are for the medical and maintenance expenses of the orphans of bandleader Sam Trippe." A terrible story of tragic misfortune. The reason I bothered to do this kind of in-depth research is because no information about Trippe or the accident exists online or in books, and the original liner notes are thin on biographical detail. 

Trippe's band featured Trippe, Roy Caton, Don Cinquemani, Bob Mitchell and Diz Mullens (tp); Joe Cadena, Ray Sikora and Kenny Tiffany (tb); Bill Smiley (b-tb); Bob Jung and Al Willet (as); Jay Migliori and Sid Miller (ts); Guy Sciaqua (bar); Shep Meyers (p); Francis James (b) and Chiz Harris (d). Arrangements were by trombonist Ray Sikora. The notable solo standout is Jay Migliori.

The tracks include Dress Blues, Grumpy, Bella's Back in Town, Larry Finley's Stomp, You Got to My Head, Ride Around the Block, How High the Moon, It's a Wonderful World and Wail Street. All of the songs that aren't standards were credited to Sikora, with the exception of Dress Blues by Trippe and Wail Street by Barney Kessell. Clearly, two of the songs were named after the band's TV experiences.

The entire album is, as the title hints, explosive. Trippe takes a beautiful solo on You Go to My Head, made even more sad and soulful now that we know his fateful. sad story.

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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